The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Title:  The Namesake

Author:  Jhumpa Lahiri

Paperback:  291 pages

ISBN:  9780618485222

For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy – a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts.  It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding.  Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, pages 49-50

My first experience with the Ganguli family happened two years ago when I brought the DVD copy of the movie home from the library.  I thought then that it was a beautiful and rich story, and was excited to find out it was also a book.  After a few months of picking it up and putting it back, I finally bought a paperback of it from Waldenbooks about a year or so ago, but it sat on the shelf since then… calling to me whenever I looked in the general area of the bookshelf where it sat.  And after reading Confessions of a Shopaholic, I decided it was time for something a little more lasting and meaningful, so I finally began the journey and story of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, and their children Gogol and Sonia.

When thinking about how to describe The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, the word that keeps coming to mind is “quiet”.  Lahiri slowly weaves a beautiful tapestry of the love and living and feelings of being an immigrant family.  The different customs and how the culture of the land in which you live can so overtake you and change you in ways you can’t even realize.  First and foremost, it is a love story:  The love of a man and wife, the love of parents for their children, the love for one’s family, and the love of one’s homeland.  It’s also a story of the journey we all must take of self-acceptance, and, after that, the acceptance of others.  Of course, the “Indian-ness” of it is also beautiful and intriguing.

One of the things I find fascinating from this book is the realization that all people everywhere share the burden of growing up, of culture, and of the hopes and expectations of their parents.  For the majority of us, we caring these burdens among our own people… fellow humans who share similar experiences in this and this helps us not feel so alone.  However, for those who have left their native lands, there can be a constant ache and isolation as they endure the struggles of life without the ability to lean on someone who can understand how they feel.  What’s more, the first generation born in another land are even more isolated, having one foot in the old and new country, they can neither relate to their parents who have no understanding of the way things are in their adopted homeland, nor can they fully relate to their peers who either don’t have any concept of their home life or they find it a curiosity.

Interestingly, after reading this book, it has made me take a second look and given me a deeper respect for Maggie’s dad, who left his own homeland of Vietnam more than ten years ago and has recently become a naturalized US citizen.  Not that I didn’t have respect for him before, but rather gained a bit more empathy for him.  It’s also given me another perspective with Maggie, who made a passing comment recently how she sometimes wishes she was either all Vietnamese or all white, as being both sometimes makes her feel outside of either culture.

For it’s quiet beauty and it’s lasting effect, I give The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri 4 and a 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg

home-repairTitle:  Home Repair

Author:  Liz Rosenberg

Paperback:  352 pages

ISBN:  9780061734564

Challenges:  ARC Challenge

But it was more than facing the clutter and the mess, this grip of cold gloom that surrounded her.  She had never been prone to depression, not even after Ivan died, but what she suffered now felt like a disease of the soul.  She wandered aimlessly around the house.  The flowers in their clay pots out on the front porch were long dead and withered.  A few brown leaves stuck out from the stems.  She seemed to be staring at the demise of everything.  Everything she’d already lost, all the losses still to come.  It all headed toward grief in the end.  Humans were soap bubbles, clinging to any solid surface.  They rested briefly, then were gone.  Her mother would be gone soon, and not long after, it would be herself, and one day even her own children…

A chill stabbed her heart.  Why on earth bother?  Why clean, take out the trash, make the beds.  Why not let it all alone to rot?

Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg, pages 183-184 (ARE)

I’d first like to thank Jennifer, aka Book Club Girl, for the opportunity to read Home Repair and participate in a discussion with Liz Rosenberg, the book’s author.  You can listen to her July 8th broadcast on Blog Talk Radio with the author by clicking here.  It was my first time participating in a live discussion with an author, and was an interesting experience.  It would definitely be more interesting to have the author’s voice at a book club discussion more often.

One of the things that sticks out most for me with Home Repair is that it truly has a feeling of authenticity.  Often in books, when the tragic or fantastic occurs, it feels contrived or manufactured, a vehicle for the author to get the characters from one point to another, or to teach a lesson.  However, with this book, the events feel natural.  When Eve and her seventeen-year-old son, Marcus, get into a fight about him going for a ride in his friend’s new sports car, it had a very familiar feeling to me, a mother of two teens of my own.  The events that followed the argument also felt familiar and made me think back to something that had happened within my own family.  Another aspect of Home Repair that I kept thinking of while reading it was that the characters were very real to me.  At times I could see my own mother in Charlotte, Eve’s mom, with Eve playing my part, at other times Mrs. Dunrea could’ve been me.  Also, Rosenberg has set Home Repair in her home town of Bignhamton, New York, adding even more realism to the book.

Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg begins on a bright, sunny and unseasonably mild day as Eve holds a garage sale to clear out some of the clutter in her family of four’s life.  As the day progresses, she becomes aware that her husband, Chuck, has taken the opportunity to clear out for good.  Eve is left with the task of explaining to her two children, Marcus and Noni, that he’s left them, and to somehow manage to dig down within herself and soldier on.  The book takes us on a year journey as Eve rediscovers who she is, develops friendships and connections with new and different people, and deepens her relationships with those she already knows.  When her mother moves up from Tennessee to “help,” Eve is faced with her mother’s own eventual mortality and humanness, as she struggles in the in-between land of mother caring for her own children while being a child caring for her mother.  Home Repair is the story of healing, family and friendship that will stay with you and gives hope that “This too shall pass.”

“Why does anyone get married?  Why do middle-aged men leave their wives, or women abandon their families and run off to Tahiti?  Why does anyone bother to become friends with anyone, or adopt a child, or own a pet, for that matter?  We’re all going to die sooner or later, if that’s what you’re thinking,”  Charlotte said.  “That’s life.  Nothing we do can change that.  We’re all going to someday say good-bye.  We’re all going to have to cry, little girl,” she said, putting one hand out to touch Eve’s hair.  The touch did not quite happen, but hovered, and then settled back down, like a butterfly, still quivering.  “We might as well be happy while we can.”

Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg, page 324 (ARE)

Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg is a comfort, homey read that reminds us that we’re not alone and gives us hope.  It tells us that we’re stronger than we think and love is the best home repair.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle by Nan Marino

Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan MarinoTitle:  Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me

Author:  Nan Marino

Hardcover:  160 pages

ISBN:  9781596434998

Challenges:  2009 ARC Reading Challenge

From the back of the book:

Muscle Man McGinty is a squirrelly runt, a lying snake, and a pitiful excuse for a ten-year-old.  The problem is that no one on Ramble Street knows it, but me.

Tamara Ann Simpson is tired of all the lies.  And boy, oh boy, can Muscle Man McGinty tell some whoppers!  When he does the unthinkable and challenges the entire block to a game of kickball, Tamara knows she’s found her opportunity to prove to everyone what a wormy little liar Muscle Man really is.  Of course things would be a lot easier if her best friend Kebsie Grobser were here to help her…

It’s the summer of 1969 and the world is getting ready for a young man named Neil Armstrong to make history by walking on the moon.  But change happens a bit more slowly in Massapequa Park, and it’ll take one giant leap for Tamara to understand the likes of Muscle Man McGinty.

I really enjoyed reading Neil Armstrong is My Uncle.  For me, this book was a trip into the past to my own childhood.  While the world of Indian Heights and that of Rumble Street were very different, and a good decade separated us, I could still cast the characters of the book with the kids from my own block.  I was, of course, Tamara.  I could totally relate to her, as I too never quite got the subtleties of the social game and all was black-and-white for me, as well.  I had a few Muscle Men at various stages growing up, people who seem to come along with the world undeservedly on their side.

There are lucky people in the world, and then there are people who always seem to find themselves knee-deep in trouble.  It’s not hard to guess which group I fall into.

If I were lucky, the morning of the us-against-Muscle Man game would be different.  I’d wake up to singing birds and sushine, scarf down a bowl of Apple Jacks, and be the first one standing on the Rattles’ front lawn.

But I’m a “trouble” person.  And that means I’m in deep water from the moment the day begins…

-page 54 in the ARE copy

Okay, so I’ve broke the three things hoped for in the publisher’s letter.  I didn’t read it in one setting in a comfy chair, but in about 5 sits… and in the car, and on the beach, then in the car, and finally in my bed.  I wasn’t born until 1973, so the trip to the moon was old hat by the time I was around, and I didn’t feel like calling anyone to ask them where they were.  And the front cover is about as much interest as my young readers care about the book because the sun is shining and the waves were coming in and the fair is today… and “Come on Mom, why are you still typing?!  We’re gonna miss the rides!  I’m hungry!  I want an elephant ear!  Let’s go, already!”

But Neil Armstrong is My Uncle is a fun book that is supposedly for the 8-12 set, but I never felt like I was reading a kids book, to be honest.  I just had a pleasant vacation into a safe past and for that I thank Nan Marino and Roaring Brook Press for the chance to read it 🙂  I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.  Oh, and be sure to heck out Nan Marino’s site at http://www.nanmarino.com/

House & Home by Kathleen McCleary

Title: House & Home
Author: Kathleen McCleary
Harcover: 259 pages
Publisher: Hyperion
Publish Date: July 1, 2008
ISBN: 9781401340735

The house was yellow, a clapboard Cape Cod with a white picket fence and a big bay window on one side, and Ellen loved it with all her heart. She loved the way the wind from the Gorge stirred the trees to constant motion outside the windows, the cozy arc of the dormers in the girls’ bedroom, the cherry red mantel with the cleanly carved dentil molding over the fireplace in the living room. She had conceived children in that house, suffered a miscarriage in that house, brought her babies home there, argued with her husband there, made love, rejoiced, despaired, sipped tea, and gossiped and sobbed and counseled and blessed her friends there, walked the halls with sic children there, and scrubbed the worn brick of the kitchen floor there at least a thousand times on her hands and knees. And it was because of all this history with the house, all the parts of her life unfolding there day after day for so many years, that Ellen decided to burn it down.

-House & Home by Kathleen McCleary, first paragraph

I’m very excited to say that House & Home by Kathleen McCleary is the first book I’ve read as part of a virtual book tour. As I am the next to last stop, I don’t know that I will have anything new to say about the book, but I will give it a go anyway.

House & Home is McCleary’s first novel. She is a journalist with articles appearing in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, More, and Health, and on HGTV.com. Overall, it’s a fabulous first book with real, palpable emotions and characters that you can recognize in your own life. My only complaint about the book is that some of the dialogue seemed a bit stinted and forced, and I often found myself wondering if a person would really say something like that.

House & Home is the story of Ellen Flanagan, mother of two daughters and recently separated from her free-spirited, inventor husband. Ellen, always stable, responsible and safe, still loves her more reckless, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants husband Sam, but can no longer stand to be the grown-up in the relationship. The house she loves and has called home for eleven years is mortgaged to the hilt on Sam’s latest invention. After spending their savings to make ends meet – even dipping into their daughter’s college fund – it is painfully obvious the only thing that can be done is sell the house.

However, after meeting the obnoxiously perky new owner Jordan, who gushes about all the stuff she plans to do to the house, Ellen can’t stand the idea of anyone else living in the house that was her and her family’s home. To prevent this, she decides to burn the house down rather than let anyone else to live, love, eat and raise children in it. Let them build a new one, but no one else will inhabit her beloved home.

Adding to her problems, her oldest daughter, ten year old Sara, is having great difficulty dealing with the divorce and move, even to the point of scrounging her birthday money, a donation jar she set up for a fictitious homeless family, and forging a letter, supposedly from Ellen and Sam, to the new owners with the money she thought was what they had paid, $450 (she’d overheard her parents say four fifty was a good offer).

I really enjoyed this book. It was a fast fun read with the occasional emotionally heart-tugging moment, and I could really relate to Ellen’s feelings. I stayed an extra year in a bad relationship just because I loved the house we lived in so much. I had a nice garden, my childhood pet is buried there, and the hash marks on the inside of the pantry door with the dates and names of which child’s height was captured for as long the door hung there unpainted. The people who bought the house has made so many changes to it that it’s no longer recognizable as the home I knew.

Breezy, but with a purpose, I would recommend House & Home as a pleasurable read. I give House & Home 3 1/2 out of 5 stars. 🙂

Thanks to Lisa at Books on the Brain and Trisha at Hey Lady, Whatcha Readin’? for including me in this bloggedy tour 😀

The Richest Season by Maryann McFadden

Title: The Richest Season
Author: Maryann McFadden
Hardcover: 326 pages
Publish Date: June 10, 2008
Publisher: Hyperion
ISBN: 9781401322700

Joanna looked down on the smooth, rolling hills of northern New Jersey, lush and green from the midsummer rains. This was where she had worked and shopped and cooked and cleaned, driven the curving roads that wound through those hills like ribbons of blacktop. She’d had a life down there, an existence that now seemed foreign to her from thousands of feet above, looking out the window of the plane. A kind of life, anyway. She’d left all those months ago, after all, because it had been so empty. And it still amazed her that she had done it- just walked away. Now with the clear vision of time and distance, she could see what a different person she’d been then. Fragile and numb. Lonely. Scared most of all because she wasn’t really certain she could survive on her own. But here she was, having crossed the threshold of a new life that made coming back to her old one a little unnerving, despite the fact she couldn’t wait to see her children.

Maryann McFadden’s The Richest Seasonis a story of journeys. First, it’s a telling of the journey of Joanna Harrison, who decides she’s had enough of being a piece of furniture in her corporate-climbing husband’s life. After accompanying him to a company banquet, she is surprised by the announcement of his promotion (and yet another move in her rootless 27 year marriage). The morning after the banquet, as he is flying to California on business, she gathers up a few things and drives off, leaving a message on his voice mail telling him it’s over. Joanna’s journey in the book is one of self-discovery: discovering she has the strength to stand on her own two, that she has hidden talents she’d never realized, and that she can indeed still feel passion, despite the years of being ignored.

The second journey is that of terminally ill Grace, for whom Joanna works as a helper of sorts doing some cooking and cleaning as well as errands and driving her to her doctor’s appointments. Grace’s journey is one of letting go and coming to terms with her life… and death. She also rediscovers a talent that she had laid aside long ago to be wife and mother, now fearing failure if she were to start again.

The third journey of The Richest Season is that of Paul Harrison, Joanna’s husband. With Joanna gone, Paul is forced to step back and take a long look at who he has become and how he has failed as a husband and father. Realizing, too late, that he had taken his wife for granted and had ignored her feelings for a long time, he wants his wife to come home. However, he has to learn that people will do what they want to do and he cannot impose his will on them. Paul comes to understand that a job title doesn’t define you as a person, and he learns that doing what you love can be just as much a “job” as the 9 to 5 grind.

There are several themes in The Richest Season: Friendship, love, conquering fear, acceptance, forgiveness, and wisdom. Through their friendship, Grace is able to give Joanna what her own alcoholic mother never could while Joanna acts as a surrogate daughter, with whom Grace can make peace with herself regarding her own feelings of failures as a mother. They learn that fear itself is worse than whatever you’re afraid of can do to you. They learn to let go of guilt, regret and the past and accept the future is a clean slate on which they can write their own life story.

I enjoyed The Richest Season, it was full of real-life happenings, it wasn’t sweet and wonderful, but contained real emotions that I could relate to. Having been through divorce, having been my mother’s support as my father went through the process of dying daily from cancer, being a mother who knows I haven’t always been the best mom I could be, knowing the longing to fill the empty spaces left by loneliness, all these feelings are incorporated in this book.

Part of me was hoping Joanna would get together with Hank, the shrimp-boat captain and loggerhead turtle savior.  Part of me was pulling for Paul to get his act together and for Joanna to work it out with him.  But part of me also hoped Joanna would realize she could do fine on her own and that she didn’t need a man.  Hey, at least all my bases were covered!  and I was write with one of them 😉

There was something that annoyed me with the writing style, though. I can’t put my finger on it, but it did hinder me from loving the book. That being said, I would give The Richest Season 4 out of 5 stars. A solid effort for McFadden’s first book. 😀

The Rabbit and the Snowman by Sally O. Lee

Title: The Rabbit and the Snowman
Author: Sally O. Lee
Illustrator: Sally O. Lee
Publisher: BookSurge Publishing
Publish Date: 2008
ISBN: 9781419656255

Oddly enough, despite being The Kool-Aid Mom, this is the first children’s book I’ve reviewed for my blog. It’s quite a cute little book about friendship, a rabbit, and a snowman. Sally O. Lee, both author and illustrator, creates a fun book that has the magical quality that keeps a child’s attention.

As soon as I pulled it from the envelope today I read it, then reread it with Maggie, my 9-year-old, allowing me to get a child’s perspective so as to give a well rounded review. At first glance, the artwork draws you in. The cover has a snowman hugging a bunny, and is brightly colored which catches the eye. Opening the book, my daughter’s eyes fell immediately to the author’s signature, and was impressed Lee had taken the time to sign it.

The story tells of a snowman who is built by a group of children who run off when they are finished with him, leaving the snowman to wonder what is wrong with him that they no longer want to be with him. Soon a new friend, rabbit, comes along and they spend hours and days talking about the world around them. But one late winter day, rabbit comes to visit his friend the snowman, only to find him disappeared. Rabbit wonders if there was something wrong with him, his fur or ears or eyes, that the snowman no longer wanted to be his friend. The rabbit is sad, and goes on with his life. When the first snow falls the following winter, he runs to the field where the snowman had been to see if he’s returned.

The Rabbit and the Snowman is well-written. It’s clear and easy for me as an adult to read out loud, and easy for a child to understand. It is well-written in that my daughter could explain in a few sentences what the story was about and what the moral of the story was: Sometimes friends go away, but it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, and sometimes they come back and you can have fun with them again (Maggie’s words).

Maggie’s favorite part in the story is when the rabbit and snowman meet for the first time, and her least favorite thing about the story is that it’s a little sad. She loves the illustrations and colors, and gives The Rabbit and the Snowman 4 out of 5 stars.

For me, my favorite thing about this book is that, in our ever increasingly mobile world where people move often for jobs and other things, this book teaches kids that sometimes friends come and go and it doesn’t mean the friends didn’t like them anymore, and they will make new friends, too. What I didn’t like about the book is the font on some of the pages are small, which might make it difficult for beginning readers to get through on their own.

Overall, The Rabbit and the Snowmanis a very cute book that would make a good classroom read for grades K through 3. I think it might be too long for the pre-K set and too babyish for much older than 9-year-olds (Maggie got a bit restless with it).